Big pile of colorful paper notes with question marks. Courtesy of Getty Images.
Courtesy of Getty Images

Questions, we have questions

This article originally appeared in the fall/winter 2023 edition of art/sci magazine. This semester, The Daily will share some of the articles from the latest edition of the magazine. View more stories at

It’s not just young children who want to know why the sky is blue or what croaking frogs are saying. We are all driven by questions. Luckily, College of Arts and Sciences faculty have answers. 

What are frogs saying when they croak?

Frogs make all kinds of sounds, from croaks to something like a banjo string being plucked or a thumb dragged across a comb’s teeth, said Michael Benard, associate professor and chair of the Department of Biology. But whatever their sounds, frogs— mostly male—vary them to mainly make three types of calls. The advertising call attracts females; the encounter call warns another male that he’s too close; and the release call tells a male that, perhaps mistakenly, grabs onto another male—rather than a female he intends to mate with—to back off.

Why do we use our hands when we speak?

“We gesture for the same reason we speak (or use sign language)—to communicate and organize our own thoughts,” said Fey Parrill, a professor and chair of the Department of Cognitive Science and director of the college’s Language and Cognition Lab. Language is actually speech plus gestures. Hand movements help promote understanding. Some people gesture more, especially if they are extroverts. Some cultures feature more conversational gestures, like those that speak Romance languages. “But everybody gestures —and it’s spontaneous.”

What’s a word we think is recent, but has been around a long time?

OMG! As in the abbreviation for “oh my god,” said Kimberly Emmons, the Oviatt Professor of English and an associate professor. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1917 a retired British admiral wrote to young Winston Churchill, then minister of munitions, to complain about the flurry of knighthoods—with their three-letter abbreviations—being given out. “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is [under discussion]” he wrote. “O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)— Shower it on the Admiralty!!”

Read more faculty explanations.